21 April 2013

Passiontide Encouragement

I was granted the privilege of preaching the homily at the pan-Orthodox Vespers this evening at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church hosted by the Council of Orthodox Christian Churches of Detroit. What follows is the homily. I pray that you find the words encouraging.

In less than two weeks, we will be celebrating the Queen of Feasts, the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. Even now, we should be eagerly anticipating this feast. For it is the highlight not of spring, but the highlight of our life in God. And even if you’ve not been successful thus far at keeping the fast—not merely the fast from food, but the more important fast from sin; and not merely the abstention from meat but the abstention from mean-speaking and thoughtless prayer and living as if you mattered most—even if you’ve struggled with this Lent’s fast, nevertheless we should all be longing to delight in the gracious invitation that St John Chrysostom will once again issue on Easter Day. And to see the resplendent gold and candlelight, to repeat the uplifting hymns, to add our vigorous Amen to the prayers that warm our hearts—that should even now increase our expectation to celebrate this joyous day.

Yet in these next two weeks, even if he cannot steal our faith or blunt our resolve, the devil will seek to subdue our joy and depress our delight, and disrupt our gladness. And so be on your guard. For in these final days of the fast, you will be besieged by various temptations. The devil will play upon your addicting weaknesses. He will urge you to ignore your well-formed conscience, and will entice you to give into your ungodly passions. And he will haunt you with your past sins, and will play upon your vulnerabilities, and will seduce you to crave other joys, and lead you to despair of your weaknesses and mortality. And all this he will do so that you will be downcast and shame-faced as the Feast of Feast approaches.

Yet do lose heart. For Our Lord’s Spirit in the Church has given us the means to combat this wily foe, and to endure these next two weeks. And so we are not left to our own devices, nor must we by our own strength somehow seek to deceive this Deceiver. Instead, we can combat this Accuser of our souls in three ways.

First, let us in the next few days make a good confession. Let us bend under the protecting stole of our spiritual father, and hold nothing back, and make no excuses, but say honestly what we have done and leave everything on the table. For when we’ve said it aloud, the devil’s ability to sap our strength is weakened. And then let us hear with an open heart, and take into ourselves, the absolution prayer that our father speaks. For his words will certainly give us the courage and grace to combat the devil’s allurements, and will help us live through our past darkness. And that word of mercy will certainly cause of the sun of righteousness to warm our soul.

Second, let us find inspiration and strength in the prayers of St Simon of Cyrene. With reluctance, he took up the Lord’s cross. And yet, as he carried the cross, Our Lord was beside St Simon, strengthening him and increasing his faith, so that what began as a burdensome task was converted into a joyous duty, even to the point that he wished to be crucified with Our Lord. So learn from St Simon the audacity to follow Christ with your mind and spirit even when your flesh wants to go another way. And so beg his prayers, so that your heart may also not shrink from the burden of these remaining days, and may find joy in what others will say is an onerous and arduous and inhuman obligation.

Third, above all else, let us make truly our own the words of Christ’s heartfelt prayer to His Father. You know that in the midst of His agony in the garden, as He feels in His human nature the weight of His burden, Our Lord Jesus aligns His will with the Father’s will by saying, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Let this also be your heart’s desire. And let these words focus and concentrate your mind during these coming weeks. For as our will becomes the Lord’s will, as we take up our cross and follow him, as we are supported and buoyed by the prayers of St Simon, then will we be able to celebrate Our Lord’s resurrection with unbridled joy, and our gladness will be unhindered, and our singing will be unimpeded, and our approach to the chalice will be unhesitating.

And in this way, by these means, the grace and merits of Our Lord’s Passion will safely escort us through these next two weeks, and guided us unscathed past the snares and machinations of the devil.

By the prayers of St Simon, St Mary of Egypt whom we commemorate this day, and of all the saints, may it be so. And by their prayers, may we attain the fullness of the heavenly kingdom where, without assault, we shall worship full-throatedly the holy and blessed Trinity; to whom belongs all glory, honor and worship, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

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